Friday, May 18, 2012

An Unexpected Bit of Treasure

The road from Reno, Nevada to Las Vegas, Nevada is long, mostly straight and occasionally hilly.  For Denny and I, it's way too far to drive in one trip so I chose the small town of Tonopah as our kinda halfway stopping off point.  The local chain hotel provides a few slot machines and about 20 full hook up RV sites in the rear at a reasonable cost, although the cost was mostly to our sleep thanks to a cadre of construction folks who fired up their trucks at 4:45 AM every morning.  

Denny had done something to his ankle (swearing I had kicked him during the night) so my planned day of exploring had to be put off for a day.  The next day was much warmer but since, as they say, it was a dry heat it was a nice day for wandering the grounds of the Tonopah Mining Park.  Imagine if you will land populated mainly by Native Americans who called the area Tonopah which roughly translates to "greasewood water", greasewood being a type of bush native to the area.  Local lore says silver ore was discovered when farmer Jim Butler was trying to round up a burro that had run off and grabbed a rock to throw at the critter.  Curious due to the weight of the rock, Jim had it assayed and discovered it was silver ore.  His wife Belle convinced Jim to stake out some claims which he later rented out and thus the area of Tonopah ended up being the "Queen of the Silver Claims" in the early 1900s. That, of course, is the extremely abbreviated version of the story.

A view of the town of Tonopah with the Mizpah Hotel dominating the center of the photograph.  Built in 1907 it is currently undergoing renovation by the new owners.

The Tonopah Mining Park is a huge complex of parts of four of the original mines owned by the Butlers.  Much of the equipment used during the 1900s still remains where it was left and you can go into many of the buildings on the grounds.

An ore crusher and other equipment.
The Grizzly is the building where silver ore was taken to be hand sorted into high and low grade ore; the good ore went into bins and the bad ore was tossed outside onto piles.
The remains of an ore wagon.  Before a special railway spur was built in Tonopah the ore was carried out on wagons pulled by teams of horses.

The visitor center houses a small museum, a gift shop and a small theater where you are shown a 15 minute video of the history of the mines and the original discovery of silver ore by Jim Butler.  There is a very nice display of the various minerals found in the area and in the state of Nevada and the volunteers at the visitor center are most helpful in explaining the various areas of the museum and will try to answer any questions you have.  The entry fee is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, free to veterans.  If you are staying overnight and have your room/campground receipt the staff will knock a dollar off the fee.

You will find the grounds much as they were left when the silver boom was over and the miners all left.  While you can't crawl down into the mine shafts, you can see down into the stopes (hand dug trenches.)  This particular stope is at the end of the reconstructed burro tunnel and is 500 feet long.

The view from the area of the Mizpah mine.
The Silver Top mine hoist,used to lift buckets of ore from the mine.
One of the original miners' cabins near the Silver Top mine with the Silver Top hoist in the background.
Looking down at the Mizpah Mine Hoist and Hoisthouse.
Apparently with the dry conditions here one didn't worry about careful storage of explosives; this is the powder magazine where the dynamite and blasting caps were kept.
The park has several well marked trails leading to the Desert Queen mine, the Silver Top mine, the Mizpah mine, the North Star mine and the Montana-Tonopah mine as well as other areas of interest such as mill ruins.  The staff will warn you, however, that the park sits at 6200 feet elevation and many of the paths lead uphill.  You not only need to carry water with you, but you need to be aware of your physical limitations or of how the elevation might affect you.
There are picnic tables at the visitor center as well as some near the Mizpah hoist house.  You have a great 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding area while you sit and ponder the amazing tenacity of the miners who worked so hard to bring millions of dollars of silver and gold out of these hills.
And another unexpected gem for our travels.


Linda Wildenstein said...

very cool. I just love old mining towns...rust, decay, grey wood, just the stuff of oldtimey dreams. Looks like fun. Oma Linda

Journeyin' Lady... said...

Interesting - nice photos too.
Safe travels. . .

Arkansas Patti said...

That was really interesting. We all know a little about gold mining but I have heard nothing about silver mining. Thanks.
Thinking about Jim's find, maybe I will curse less at all the rocks I find in my yard and start paying attention.

Anvilcloud said...

What a treat for you and us. I wonder about those legends of how the ore was discovered as I have heard a very similar one about a mine in northern Ontario.

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